Senior human development and family relations major Ruka Terukina uses her love for helping people and learning about other cultures to work toward future international cooperation.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, Terukina came to SUNY Plattsburgh after going to a community college in California. Seeking a more specialized program, she searched the SUNY school systems and landed on Plattsburgh after finding her desired field of study.

Specifically wanting to pursue her concentration in childcare management, she was also looking for internship opportunities and hand-ons experience and found Plattsburgh would be her home for the next two years.

Terukina has traveled around the world and working with Afgan refugees in Iran and children in Kenya firsthand. Last semester, Terukina did an internship in Tanzania.

Her mother, who had worked in Kenya and Iran before, had connections with a japanese non-governmental organization that was able to give Terukina the opportunity as a volunteer. Through these experiences she said she was inspired.

“By working with the local people, like directly helping them, coexisting with them and cooperating, that just gave me the idea of international cooperation,” Terukina said. “I found out that I love kids, because of their smiles and honesty. I get a smile every time I work with kids.”

She also said that her family had a big impact on her decision. Terukina has eight foster sisters and is constantly encouraged by her parents.

“My parents, especially my mom, always said ‘Think about people in the world despite having different races, languages and cultures. We’re all human,’” Terukina said. “I always think of that.”

She said that while she was in Kenya she asked the children in how they can all have such big smiles in spite of some of them being orphans, or starving or suffering disease. The 7 to 8-year-old children said that when they go to bed they pray for tomorrow, so they are always thankful for the new day and smile naturally. She said that moment moved her heart and brought her to tears. She knew that she wanted to help kids.

“Those kind of encounters with kids encouraged me to choose this goal,” she said.

During her first year on campus, Terukina was the treasurer of the Human Development and Family Relations Club. This year, she has taken on the role as treasurer of Phi Upsilon Omicron, the department’s honor society. She also is a member of the Volleyball Club and volunteers at CVPH, which included duties like working in the intensive care unit’s waiting room and visiting patients and helping them with personal care work.

In her spare time, she likes to read and explore the outdoors when the weather permits. One of the biggest adjustments for Terukina was experiencing snow for the first time. After growing up in Okinawa, a place she referred to as “Hawaii in Japan,” and then studying in California, she said it took her a couple weeks to adjust.

Terukina said she anyone seeking internship help, or education regarding Japan or volunteering abroad to reach out because she loves meeting new people and establishing connections.

“My ultimate goal is to go back to Africa and working with kids through the local NGOs serving low-income families, or children with special needs,” Terukina said. “That’s pretty much me. I love learning about new cultures.”

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